What covers 11 acres, requires 85 different contractors and over 2,000 contractor staff to build within 25 days and over 5,000 catering staff to operate? Answer: The RHS Chelsea Flower Show (where the pavilion alone covers 3 acres or 12000 sqm!).
Making sure it’s more than just the plants which are fed and watered, Sodexo provide food and drink for the 160,000 guests that pass through the Royal Hospital gates each May.
This includes retail outlets such as cafes, walk in restaurants and at the top end, hospitality in Jardin Blanc, Raymond Blanc’s exclusive garden
It’s here that we lay our scene and see what goes into constructing one of the most beautiful, tranquil and surprising spaces in the heart of the busy RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Jardin Blanc offers an oasis of calm from the bustling flower show and provides an ideal atmosphere for dining, unwinding and celebrating spring. Jardin Blanc is set within 2 acres of Ranelagh Gardens, Royal Hospital Chelsea which were developed as public pleasure gardens in the mid-18th century and to this day have restriction over any temporary building works. This poses a number of challenges in construction notably the undulations of the grounds, earth fixings and preservations of the historic trees.
The main temporary marquee structure is in an L shaped design sitting over 2,300 sqm. This sits over part of a tarmac roadway and even into the banks of the 18th century gardens, so the build needs to be flexible in approach to deal with all kinds of surfaces. Special dispensation is granted to allow for small areas of earth to be dug to allow for service structures with kitchens within with careful reinstating after the event.
With over 6,000 guests expected at Jardin Blanc, and each one looking forward to the Raymond Blanc inspired dishes and refreshing cocktails from the bar, the set up needs to be big enough to cope yet compact to make best use of the space. Front of house, a focal point of the bar is the extraordinary gin still, courtesy of master distillers, Warner Edwards. This is quite a significant piece of kit and requires careful installation (after travelling all the way from Falls Farm, Northamptonshire on its own trailer!) in order to provide guests with the best gin, uniquely distilled on site.
Back of house, as you might imagine the kitchens we require to deliver such high quality cuisine are on a large scale and over 3 separate areas measuring 340 sqm. The equipment within these kitchens are high end pieces to allow us to deliver a product worthy of the Raymond Blanc brand. Refrigeration played a huge part of the operation last year with the balmy summer temperatures, meaning that Jardin Blanc needed 60sqm of fridge space.
Naturally, the gardens at Jardin Blanc are very important and a key feature of the hospitality environment. Our planting changes each year through the guidance of 25 time (!) Chelsea Flower Show Gold medal winner Andrew McIndoe and under the direction of Raymond himself. Our focus is naturally around the garden and the link between that and the kitchen they provide for. With over 3,000 plants brought into Jardin Blanc, the scheme of planting is a major factor in our look for the year.”